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Democrats find war footing on budget

Democrats find war footing on budget
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Democrats on Wednesday fired the opening shots in what is expected to be a drawn-out fight with Republicans over how much defense spending to approve for fiscal 2016.

The House is expected to pass a policy bill on Pentagon spending this week, but in what Republicans say would be an unprecedented move, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is planning to whip votes against the bill.

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“This bill is the wrong bill,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraMcDonald's teams up with HHS on pro-vaccination campaign Overnight Health Care: FDA authorizes Pfizer vaccine for adolescents | Biden administration reverses limits on LGBTQ health protections The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden reverses Trump limits on transgender protections MORE (Calif.) said.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGOP Rep. Turner to lead House push to address military sexual assault US is leaving, but Afghan women to fight on for freedoms Overnight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners MORE (Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, also said he would also oppose the legislation, despite supporting it when it passed his committee in a 60-2 vote.

The White House issued a veto threat against the defense bill Tuesday evening, and the Pentagon sent Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work to speak to Democratic caucus members about it early Wednesday morning.

“We heard a presentation directly from the Department of Defense saying that this bill is the wrong bill,” Becerra said. 

The White House and congressional Democrats say they have a litany of objections to the legislation.

For one, they are unhappy that it would skirt the budget caps approved in 2011, which limit defense spending to $523 billion. Republican plan to boost spending above that level with an additional $96 billion in war funding, which is not subject to the caps.

Democrats call that a “gimmick” that would leave in place caps on domestic spending, and the White House has said it would veto any legislation that leaves them in place.

In a statement, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said the massive defense policy bill “fails to authorize sufficient funding for our military’s priorities” and uses the war fund “in ways that leaders of both parties have made clear are inappropriate.”

The White House also opposes provisions in the bill that would restore restrictions on the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay detainee, reject new base closures and begin an overhaul of the military retirement system.

The House Republican leadership immediately fired back in a statement, accusing Democrats of putting “politics before troops.”

“By the looks of things, House Democrats are in the process of pulling their support for the national defense bill that funds our troops and their missions,” Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerWhat's a party caucus chair worth? Biden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty Maher chides Democrats: We 'suck the fun out of everything' MORE’s office said in a statement.

Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told The Hill he expects the policy bill to still pass despite the Democratic opposition.

“I think we’ll still pass it,” he said. He also brushed off the White House’s veto threat, adding that the administration’s opposition to some of the provisions in the bill was to be expected.

“That’s what they usually do. They point out this budget stuff, which is not our jurisdiction. Now on Gitmo and stuff, they always threaten that. That’s not anything new,” he said.

Still, Thornberry added, it is “really unfortunate because it has this tradition and history of bipartisan support in overwhelming numbers.”

“We just haven’t seen somebody use it as pawns for some other agenda,” he said.

If all Democrats in the House voted against the defense bill, GOP leaders would only be able to afford 28 defections.

Becerra declined to say whether he thought Democratic opposition would be enough to bring down the policy bill, which has traditionally passed with bipartisan support. Last year, the bill passed the House in a 300-119 vote.

The House version will also have to be reconciled with the Senate’s, which is being marked up by that chamber’s Armed Services Committee this week.

Early indications are that the Senate bill will authorize to the same spending levels as the House and contain many of the same provisions objected to by the White House.

Defense budget expert Mackenzie Eaglen said the passage of the House bill is just the opening skirmish in the larger clash over the defense budget.

“These are the first steps in a long process to get any defense spending bill signed into law,” said Eaglen, resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

She expects the House and Senate to agree on the same level of funding and that the president will veto the bill.

Eventually, Eaglen predicted, the parties will have to come together to create a budget deal that lifts the budget caps, such as the one negotiated in 2013 by then-Budget Committee chiefs Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanBiden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Budowsky: Liz Cheney vs. conservatives in name only MORE (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBiden's pre-K plan is a bipartisan opportunity to serve the nation's children Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap MORE (D-Wash.).

“It’s going to be after this long, head-banging-against-the-wall process, where both sides dig in further and realize that the only way out is another Ryan-Murray,” Eaglen said.